Thursday, 3 May 2007

The case for Scottish Republicanism.


In a desperate attempt to take my mind off the catastrophe that were Thursday’s elections (on which I may, or may not, comment later) and in place of a May 1st post (May 1st, apart from international labour day, was also the 300 anniversary of the formation of the British Union) I will honour my promise to Southpawpunch and present a brief argument in favour of Scottish independence from a socialist point of view. You see, said fellow mistook my last post for such an argument. It appears that he understood that my rationale was that if large capital is in favour of the union, then we should be against it. I can't possibly fathom where he drew such a conclusion from, considering that the only point made therein was that Scottish capital could extract a variety of gains from independence that do not necessarily have to do anything with attacking the working class, which seems to be one of the key postulates of left unionists.

It seems that such sophisms form the intellectual foundations of many ultra left numpties. For example, the Squirrel Vanguard's favourite puritan ortho-Trot sectlet, the Socialist Equality Party published an article about how Scottish independence (or fiscal autonomy) would be an economic disaster from the working class. Apart from being largely based on false premises the article registered at new levels of idiocy for the following paragraph:

So what could possibly be wrong with the Irish model? At a time when most European economies are stagnating and unemployment is high, the Irish model, with only four percent unemployment, might indeed seem to offer an alternative perspective for other small economies. That is certainly what the Scottish and Welsh nationalists claim and, by extension, what their supporters among the radical left must agree with.


One would have thought that the countless demonstrations, paper articles, press statements and whathaveyou as well as the successive resolutions of a number of SSP conferences explicitly stating that we will never enter a bourgeois coalition, would have made it a bit clear by now that the Scottish Socialist Party is utterly, completely, fully, most assuredly and irreconcilably opposed to the SNP's vision of Tartan business haven Scotland. You would expect from self proclaimed Trotskyist dialecticians not to employ the "humans have legs, pigs have legs, ergo humans=pigs" kind of formal logic which Trotsky used to denounce in a huge number of his works. But that's probably just me. Now, enough with the puritan bashing, let's move on to the actual politics.

I only wish to point to the political/ideological/tactical potential benefits for the socialist movement that can be made by fighting for and eventually achieving Scottish independence. There is a compelling (for the working class) economic case to be made as well, but this is not what concerns me here. Andy from the Socialist Unity Blog made a short and to the point post outlining the economic benefits that Scottish independence could bring for the whole of the British working class. You can read it here.

Now, with the lengthy and ranty intro out of the way, let's look at what the key issues surrounding the question of independence are. The most common points Brit lefties usually raise are that independence will break the unity of the British working class, that the break up of a nation state into smaller ones is inherently regressive, that advocating independence necessarily involves whipping up nationalist feelings (therefore weakening proletarian internationalism) and that, after all, there is no reason for socialists to get involved in a choice between a capitalist Britain and a capitalist Scotland. All capitalisms are the same, the task of socialists is to raise class consciousness and fight for socialism!

These arguments may on first look seem to be entirely inline with a Marxist outlook, but if we examine them more carefully and refrain from puritanistic black and white juxtapositions of class struggle vs anything else we'll see that they don't hold much water.

Starting with the issue of the unity of the working class in Britain, let us consider what the idea that the working class should not be split along national lines is founded on. Most Marxists and socialists take this as an axiom. Left unionists extend this axiom to the case of Scottish separatism and thus, they a priori reject the latter without having really considered its internal dynamics and how these relate to the unity of the working class.

They idea is that since capital is largely integrated, and operates in a largely centralist manner, transcending national boundaries, then the working class should aim to unite as much as possible and fight capital on an international level as well. An isolated working class is far weaker than a united, militant working class fighting on the principle of solidarity. Therefore, the erosion of national boundaries is inherently a positive development, since it builds bridges between formerly divided national working classes. Conversely, the fragmentation of existing states is necessarily against the interests of the working class as it becomes divided and therefore, weaker.

So far, so good. There's nothing wrong with the above in the abstract. Internationalism is always good, both tactically and ideologically. Nobody is disputing that. The problem however is that if we look at the concrete potentialities of Scottish independence, the above is completely and utterly irrelevant. The main weapon of the workers in the class struggle is their organization in trade unions. The unions in Britain and the rest of the world evolved from initially local organizations to the largely centralized formations that they are now, reflecting trends in the capitalist economy. British capital will remain integrated even if Britain is broken. Its internal antagonisms may become more acute, but it will remain a single class. Well so will the trade unions! The separation of Scotland from Britain does not have to, nor will it entail the division of British trade unions into their national components. The National Union of Journalists already organizes workers in both the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Unions in North America operate on both sides of the US/Canadian border.

None of the circumstances that necessitated the establishment of all British trade unions will vanish if the British state disintegrates. To think that Scottish independence will somehow undermine the capacity of the British working class to operate as a single entity is to mechanically connect the trade unions and the bourgeois state. Such thinking is extremely undesirable from a socialist point of view. We must consciously seek to develop workers' unions beyond the existing nation states, not wait until those states merge to achieve this.

But what of the ideological problems that support for independence entails? Surely, the setting up of a new nation state will promote nationalism and weaken support for socialist ideas amongst the workers.

Well not quite. Nationalist groups are a small minority in the independence movement which is more concerned with actual socioeconomic issues rather than the evil English. Within the movement, we should fight to isolate and eventually destroy all expressions of nationalism, but in the present, the most right wing of the major political forces in favour of independence is the SNP, which only some days ago got the first Asian MSP into parliament and is not using any anti-English rhetoric.

Moreover, there is no language/cultural barrier between Scottish and English workers to create division and hostility. The poison of nationalism and xenophobia is the result of inability to relate to and communicate with other people. In the southern US, Spanish and English speaking workers have trouble organizing together and are often hostile to each other despite living in the same state.

Surprisingly (not really) the political group that represents the despicable ideology ultra nationalism and racism, the British National Party, is hardline unionist.

None of these dangers are present in the dynamics of Scottish separatism. The only xenophobic group I know of that is supportive of separatism is Siol Na Gaidheal and it is little more than a kitsch tartanry culture club. In fact, the break up of the UK could once and for all defuse whatever hostility could arise on the part of the Scots towards the perceived "English exploiter".

What left unionists fail to understand is that proletarian internationalism is not the product of bourgeois states. The failed British identity that was artificially constructed by the ruling classes of these islands as an ideological support for the Empire is ample evidence of this. Internationalism is forged by the working class(es) during common struggles. The British state was never built on such foundations. It wasn't even built on bourgeois radicalism, unlike Italy. It was established by a conservative ruling class that was threatened by both the radical elements of the bourgeoisie, like the Cameronians, and the even more reactionary feudalist Jacobites.

The links that English, Scottish and Welsh workers have built in decades of struggle are not subject to the existence of the British repressive apparatus. It is rather ironic, that prominent "dialecticians" would think in such a mechanistic manner as "break-up of the uk=break up of the UK's working class". Such arguments are little more than leftist manifestations of Blair's "border guards on the Tweed" doomsday scenarios.

Having seen how most of the objections to independence put forward by left unionists have little substance, we should take a look at why independence is a goal worth fighting for.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to fight for the Scottish independence is the constitutional crisis that it would cause throughout Britain. I said earlier that the key weapon of the working class in its fight against capital are the trade unions. For the bourgeoisie, it is the state.

Britain has one of the most powerful state apparatuses found in the developed world today. It is, even after devolution, highly centralized, with a rather unrepresentative House of Commons and an unelected House of Lords. More importantly, the government has royal prerogative powers that are not subject to parliamentary review.

Setting up an independent Scottish state would give us the chance here (provided of course that we are actively involved) to establish an apparatus that is far more representative and with considerably less authoritarian powers, thus providing considerably more fertile ground for socialists to organize and agitate.

A similar debate would be probably started south of the border as well, giving the English and Welsh left the chance to fight for more representative forms of government, like the adoption of PR at Westminster and devolution for North England among others.

Further, one cannot underestimate the power of the blow that will be dealt to global imperialism by the break up of Britain. It is no secret that the UK is the chief guard dog of US interests in the world, an imperialist junior partner. However, with 1/3 of British troops being Scottish, Britain's capacity to support her American masters would be severely compromised should Scotland become a separate state with an independent foreign policy. Of course, you may reasonably object that there's nothing to guarantee that Scotland would not follow a similar foreign policy to what will remain of the UK, meaning that there'll be little change on the global level, apart from an extra line on the map. While this objection has some merit, in that no one can predict with certainty what the foreign policy orientation of an independent Scotland would be, it is not unreasonable, given the facts, to assume that Scotland would abandon yee-haw imperialism for a foreign policy similar to that of the Republic of Ireland.

First and foremost, the Scottish economy is largely based on small to medium sized businesses. Such capital is of necessity introverted preferring to spend state money on subsidies and internal investment rather than weapons of varying destruction scales. Second, the SNP, which, should Scotland go independent, will definitely form the first two governments, has a history of anti-war populist politics (like its commitment to scrap Trident - its not like small-mid businesses need nukes) and is largely pro-European. That and the cold hard fact that Scotland is a rather small country would almost surely push a newly formed Scottish state towards the EU, away from the Anglo-Saxon axis. That of course is not to say that the EU is a "better" imperialist entity than the US. The point is that the loss of Scotland would be significantly more damaging to American-British imperialism than its gain would be to the EU. We should also consider that, as said earlier, left wing forces in an independent Scotland will be in a significantly better position to influence the political agenda, making it possible to completely pull Scotland away from US interests while also pushing the EU approach into a Scandinavian channel of relative independence.

Finally, it is important to note that the independence movement is fertile ground for the spreading of socialist ideas and the building of hegemony. The reason is that, as I wrote earlier, support for independence is bound up with a series of inherently progressive concerns (anti-war demands, concerns over the democratic deficit etc.). Thus, there is an ever present opportunity to pose questions (and give answers) over what kind of Scotland we want. Now, this does not imply that socialism will immediately spring up as the first answer. However, given that amongst workers, support for independence is mostly found with those that are more class conscious and militant, it is certain that any campaign for Scottish independence can be infused with (quasi)socialist demands relatively easily. As Gregor Gall argues:


Support for independence amongst the social groups that comprise the working class has grown between 1979-2002: routine non-manual: 8% to 25%, skilled manual 5% to 34%, semi-skilled manual 8% to 34%, and unskilled manual 8% to 40% . This then also intersects with the growth in support for independence from the left and those that identify themselves as 'Scottish' rather than 'British'. In 1992, 30% of left-wing opinion supported independence with 46% doing so in 2002 . In 1979, 11% of those identifying themselves as 'Scottish' supported independence with 36% of those doing so in 2002. With a population of 5m in Scotland and extrapolating from these figures, around 1m people can be identified who are of key importance for the SSP; those who are working class and on the left, identify themselves as 'Scottish' and who are pro-independence. The crucial point here is that amongst the key constituency for the SSP, namely the working class, the most radicalised section of opinion is pro-independence.

Whether the potentialities identified above will be realised or not is entirely, or almost entirely, up to socialist and working class agency in the political processes that will deliver and follow independence. In the abstract, the establishment of a separate Scottish state cannot be defined as either positive or negative a development for the socialist movement. This black and white, mechanistic approach is where the fallacy of both left unionist and left nationalist narratives lies. Passive support for the British state is no way forward for the working class and neither is cheerleading for the SNP. The movement for Scottish independence must have a specifically defined goal of setting up a republic that is not servile to imperialist interests, a republic that adopts radical solutions to poverty and other social ills; a social republic if you will. Within that movement, we must agitate for the socialist transformation of society, in order to build a truly powerful, deeply rooted working class vanguard that can fight the harsh political struggles that we shall inevitably face in an age of ever growing capitalist decline and increasing imperialist competition. MacLean wasn't speaking out of his arse.

16 comments:

beatroot said...

So what happened to the fascist tide that was about to swamp the country? This is from the BNP web site:

Working hard to stand still - Elections 2007

Against an intense anti-British smear campaign by meddling third parties (which will subject to investigations by the Electoral Commission) and an almost silent mainstream media the hundreds of BNP campaign teams around the country can take pride in the results which show that the BNP overall lost 8 councillors at borough/district level but gained 8 councillors at the same level.

Work is still progressing on adding individual votes to our database, but no Party activist or supporter can have anything but good reason to be delighted with our votes overall.


They are 'delighted' to have made no gains whatsoever. That is how low the hopes of the fascist nutters are these days.

The extreme right are not a problem in the UK. Better just to ignore the few weordos that there are.

Korakious said...

They made significant, for their size gains in traditional Labour working class strongholds all over Britain, particularly in Wales.

Again, you should not look at the absolute results, but at the trends. They BNP had never attempted to stand for elections to the Scottish Parliament before.

AN said...

The point about the Trade unions is key to understanding how class unity can be maintained.

In the 1940s, when pro-independence sentiment was marginal, there were 125 Scottish only unions, today there are only six: Three of them in education where the case for amalgamation with British unions is weaker (EIS, SSTA, & SFHEA) due to the distinct Scottish education system.

Generally, the economic, political and industrial case for unions that organise across the whole of Britain will be sustained.

Despite independence for most of Ireland, Many Trade unions continue to organise in both Britain and Ireland.

Korakious said...

Exactly.

It seems that the Brit left cannot grasp that a Scotland independent from England will not suddenly cause the trade unions to divide along national lines, it won't restrict freedom of movement across the border. There's no reason why it would.

Charlie Marks said...

Great post, korakious. One question: will there be an attempt to unify S-SSM and SSP? And btw, thanks for adding me to yr blogroll

Korakious said...

Greetings Charlie and welcome.

The SSP National Conference that took place in October decided that all solidarity members are welcome back to the SSP.

The difficulty however is that the SWP and CWI are not really interested in uniting the left in Scotland. Both were from the very beginning hostile to the SSP project and the model it proposed. For example, during the G8 demonstrations, both the SWP and CWI platforms, then still part of the SSP, broke party unity and marched with their own blocks.

It should also be kept in mind that CWI and the SWP were both quite hostile to Sheridan and his support for independence, yet suddenly, when the events of the summer transpired, they both joined him singing his praises.

So to answer your question, I don't really know how the left in Scotland will move on from here. The first order of business for the SSP is to have a discussion about ourselves, the type of party we are, and other nice wee theoretical issues that are however of key importance. The rest largely depends on the future of Solidarity, which, with Sheridan and other leading figures facing charges, is rather uncertain. It's yet too early to tell.

The Red Knight said...

Hi Korakious,

That's a really good and interesting argument. As I alluded to in my recent blog post I am instinctively against Scottish independence, but not really through any brilliant theorising on my part and more as better the devil you know.

I definetly have the fears you mention and tackle. Thats an excellent argument for independence and is definitely food for thought that could change my mind on the issue.

Thats the kind of argument for Independence I've been looking for from socialists but had previously failed to find.

So thanks, thats a big help on my road to understanding.

Korakious said...

Hello knight and thanks for the praise.

To be fair, I initially shared your views on nationalism, but I've moved on to a less knee jerk approach. Concrete analysis of concrete circumstances :)

By the way, you might want to read this.

It is a long article by a member of the Republican Communist Network of the SSP challenging both Left Nationalism and Left Unionism. Very good read.

Charlie Marks said...

Excellent post. Strange to hear Blair describe the British like the master race, just as the the national identity is coming unravelled. I am only living here in the UK because of colonialism; to me, the Union flag is abhorrent. It was, for the first two hundred years, only really associated with war. I'd describe myself as English, if I was forced to, rather than British. But enough about me.

I keep recalling that the bourgeoisie are a warring band of brothers, but also that a third of the British army's soldiers are from Scotland. An independent Scotland would not be in Nato, hence its army would not be in the Middle East.

The constitutional crisis might allow for a constitution for Scotland, and the best case scenario is elections to a Constitutional Assembly, which might allow the workers' parties (hopefully, *party*) to make the new Scottish state more representative and enshine the rights of workers in law. It would still be a capitalist state, though it would be less likely to be involved in imperialist wars.

I saw Andrew Neil and Portillo talking about Scottish independence on TV. They worried that Scotland had too much "socialism" to be economically successful on its own. What they meant by "socialism" was that there is higher social spending in Scotland and the class consciousness of the proletariat is manifested organisationally, more so than in the rest of the UK.

Southpawpunch said...

Comrade,

That was an interesting article.

-

I first wanted to say that I know the mood must be pretty downbeat in Scotland after the recent elections.

But I still feel that you have made that quantative step forward, ahead of the rest of Britain, and you should seek to maintain that.
I’ve been arguing with English comrades for a while that there is no place for Lefts in the Labour Party.

When, as expected, McDonnell doesn’t get on the ballot paper (or does, and is crushed) a lot of those people, I think will say - what are we doing in Labour?

But they will also think that there is nothing outside Labour (in England and Wales) to join. They see Respect (somewhat understandably) as beyond the pale.

It’s to our disadvantage that there isn’t an English Socialist Party (or rather better a British Socialist Party, or even better a Word Socialist Party) like there is the SSP (and rather that than Solidarity).

-

On the article

You say (I) understood that (your) rationale was that if large capital is in favour of the union, then we should be against it. I don’t think I do say that but people can read your previous article and make up their own minds.
I would agree with independence as a tactic if it were demonstrably clear that the Left movement in Scotland was being held back a more right wing England but I don’t see any great proof that there is much red water between the level of political and socialist support in the two countries.

Yes, there may be a far greater concentration of Labour MPs in the Central Belt than England as a whole but I imagine the area shares the similar characteristics to say London or the North East. It was only 50 years ago or so that, I believe, Scotland had a majority of Tory MPs.

You state by first attempting to knock down the usual ‘Left Unionist’ arguments. Although you make the case for independence later it’s noticeable you can’t make the case for separation when you deal with these initial matters.

I thought your summing up of the usual case against nationalism was correct (e.g. The most common points Brit lefties...) save Lefts do support the rights of oppressed nations to secede e.g. Chechnya.

But I’d also say British capitalism (and, even more so, Scottish capitalism) is a misnomer - they are just subsets of international capitalism with the differences being deleted daily.

There’s not much, looking around my desk, that hasn’t been produced by a Multi National Company (MNC) rather than a ‘British’ company.

I very much doubt that the Scottish economy is based on ‘small to medium sized businesses’. I think it’s based on the public sector and then MNC oil, transport, banking, food and drink, media and other large companies employing the large majority of workers. I’m going to guess that even in tourism a large number of workers are employed by MNCs.

It doesn’t advance things when you say - don’t worry, if we part, the unions will stay united (well they may not - there are UK and Ireland unions but also purely Irish unions and purely Scottish unions) but that’s not an argument saying why there should be a parting - what advantage is there to trade union organisation in Scottish independence?

You claim “Nationalist groups are a small minority in the independence movement” That’s hard to swallow. What is the independence movement if it is not a nationalist movement? I accept it doesn’t indulge in anti-English rhetoric but again your noting a problem that doesn’t exist makes no movement in arguing the case for.

So what is the reason that many Scottish workers support independence? I suspect few think they may be better off in an independent Scotland. I suspect a lot feel that they are somehow disadvantaged, discriminated against or oppressed by ‘England’ and doubtless it’s mixed with some (non aggressive) national pride of a Tartan Army type.

It’s not a national feeling, but you will get a resonance of that view expressed by people in places like the North East of England or even in my home place of Manchester (‘them down in the Smoke’) where they will see their region as ignored or discriminated against by the capital dwellers.

But that’s all a big con. It’s like when the workers in a regional office complain to the management and are fobbed off. Their local bosses say, ‘don’t blame us, head office just make the decisions and we have to implement them - whether they are right or wrong.’ Scottish bosses, with independence leanings, are leading Scottish workers’ anger down a blind alley.

All national identities are ‘artificially constructed’. As I recall, English national identity was most made in the (9th Century?) by Alfred the Great. I imagine the Scottish nation was formed at about the same time - although the Shetlands and Orkneys didn’t join the country until 1468.

And just because (and only arguably) British national identity was established by a ‘conservative ruling class that was threatened by both the radical elements of the bourgeoisie’ makes it no better or worse a national feeling.

The article is correct in saying ‘the links that English, Scottish and Welsh workers have built in decades of struggle are not subject to the existence of the British repressive apparatus’.

Agreed, although presumably it could become harder (e.g. through increasing different legislation) but how does break-up move forward, in any way, such struggles?

You claim ‘Setting up an independent Scottish state would give us the chance here (provided of course that we are actively involved) to establish an apparatus that is far more representative and with considerably less authoritarian powers, thus providing considerably more fertile ground for socialists to organize and agitate.’

No such event took place when most of Ireland wasn’t just given its independence, but took it. Such a scenario, as you envisage, is possible but the most likely scenario would be just Scotland detaching as it is - with no major representational changes in either country. I’m not aware that the end of Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia led to any more democratic regimes in any of the successor countries.

The loss of, perhaps, a seventh of the UK’s economy if Scotland seceded - and when the USA’s economy is seven times that of Britain - is no great potatoes. It may reduce Britain in the GDP rankings down two places to below France and Italy.

Once Britain would have directed the use of Australian troops. The fact that both countries now do this independently makes no difference to the actual outcome.

So Scotland could go a Scandinavian or Irish route (which isn’t neutral - they’re NATO members) but it would hardly affect the balance of forces.

As you say ‘The movement for Scottish independence must have a specifically defined goal of setting up a republic that is not servile to imperialist interests, a republic that adopts radical solutions to poverty and other social ills; a social republic if you will.”

Agreed. And if it were tactically easier to do this on a Scottish basis than a British basis, then I would support Scottish independence.

But I’m not convinced at all you have outlined that it is - a more likely outcome is to unleash the poison of nationalism.

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